by Silvia Alborno and Angela Rossignoli
From the second half of the XIXth century many European artists and men of letters decided to spend some time in Bordighera; some of them even decided to live there. The nature around it was very attractive and appreciated for its blooming vegetation, due to lots of water springs. From the Arziglia to the hills around the ancient Roman road, the typical country landscape was being transformed: many luxurious villas and hotels with beautiful gardens had to be built for the European nobility.
Claude Monet, with his friend Auguste Renoir, had a short journey in Liguria and the south of France in December 1883. In January 1884 he came back to Bordighera; he was going to stay there just for few weeks: he liked the landscape and the light so much in December that in January he decided to go immediately back to Liguria to find new pictorial motifs .
Our itinerary in Bordighera starts from “Palazzo del Parco” (close to the railway station) whose garden introduces you to the town with the richest vegetation in Western Liguria.
If you go through Corso Italia, you will reach the ancient Roman road; turn right and get to “Villa Etelinda”, whose little tower appears on many Monet’s paintings (on the background, the Roman road and the Ligurian Alps). Its garden is full of palm trees, agaves and olive trees.
If you go east, after the Bicknell Museum and Library, you will see a huge sample of Ficus, whose roots twine part of the wall, an iron gate and a palm tree.
Then go through the Roman road, till you get to a place which is called “African Valley”, where there is a bust dedicated to Monet in a niche of a wall. Till the end of the XIXth century there was a wonderful garden here which belonged to the Moreno family: today only a little part of it survives in “Villa Schiva” garden, where you can see the highest Pinus canariensis in Europe (35 m high), a huge palm tree (Jubea spectabilis) and a nice Ginkgo biloba.
Entering this beautiful garden in 1884 wasn’t easy for Monet. Thanks to a person he knew in Marseilles, he got a permission to visit it and study its blooming vegetation.
Following the Roman road, turn left and get to “Porta Sottana”, the entrance to the upper town, which was called “Bordigheta” and was founded in 1471. The high tower-houses, the town walls and the bell-tower appear in many Monet’s paintings, surrounded by olive trees, pinasters and palm trees. In the letters Monet wrote to his partner Alice and to his merchant, Paul Durand-Ruel, it is possible to feel the artist’s effort to transfer the light and the colours on his paintings.
Then go through the historical centre till Maddalena’s Church, and turn right into Via Pompeo Mariani. When you get to Via Beodo, turn right again and follow the beautiful path which coasts the so-called “beodo”, an ancient canal used for cultivations and oil mills.
The landscape is particularly attractive: you can go through the Phoenix palm trees garden, which creates an exotic atmosphere. The hill has been changed by man in the past through the construction of well preserved walls, which sustain cultivated narrow land bands.
This valley was very inspiring for some of Monet’s paintings. A steep staircase takes you to a road close to the Sasso torrent, behind the cemetery.
On the other side you can still see the ancient tower among the palm trees, another theme in Monet’s paintings.
When you go down to Via Aurelia, on the left you can see a particular garden, with modern statues by the artist Marcello Cammi (1912-1994).
When you get to Via Aurelia, turn right and reach “Villa Garnier”, built by the architect Charles Garnier in 1873 as his residence. Today this villa is a very peaceful place, managed by a group of nuns.
If you go on, you will get to the historical centre, where our itinerary ends.